Are Arabs social

Qantara.de - Dialogue with the Islamic World

When the Arabellion, the greatest mass mobilization in recent history of the Arab peoples, broke out in 2011, some observers believed that the main obstacle to successfully overcoming authoritarian rule was the great ideological alienation between the ruling elites and the popular masses. This alienation can be seen in the secularity of the power elites and the religiosity of the broader population in Arab societies.

And in fact it looked like this after the first setbacks in Arab states in transition: After the departure of the long-term dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, the common enemy of the heterogeneous protest movements fell away. The bearers of the Arab revolts became increasingly entangled in ideological trench warfare.

This social polarization between a conservative-Islamist camp on one side and a secular camp on the other ultimately contributed to the temporary failure of the Arabellion: In Egypt, the old, apparently secular power elite returned to power after the military coup in summer 2013 back as Libya and Syria sank into a ruthless civil war.

All power to the palace

Amazingly, the North African countries survived the turbulence of the revolutionary dynamic relatively unscathed: For fear of renewed civil war, Algeria remained largely calm; in Morocco came King Mohammed VI. 2011 the flight forward and for fear of mass protests gave up some powers in the context of a constitutional amendment that should have made the country a constitutional monarchy.

But at least since the government crisis following the parliamentary elections in August 2016 and the dismissal of the popular Prime Minister Benkirane, we have known that the hope for real change has obviously not been fulfilled. The strategy of the palace and its networks continues to aim to weaken any politically self-sufficient force such as the Justice and Development Party (PJD) and to nip the organization of independent trade unions in the bud. Morocco is in the process of returning to old-style authoritarian rule.

Only Tunisia remained as the only hope of the Arabellion. Despite major economic problems and attempts at destabilization through jihadist terrorist attacks, the country continues to have the best prerequisites for successful democratization in the Arab region.

Elites decoupled from social realities

Of course, it was unrealistic to believe that the difficult legacy of the dictatorship could be overcome without a violent confrontation within society. These conflicts were certainly inevitable for the self-discovery and reorientation of Arab societies after half a century of authoritarian rule.

But the ideological confrontation between secularists and Islamists belies the real causes of the misery. Of course, after the historical upheaval, it was about a new understanding of the state, but above all about a new social contract, with the help of which the huge gap between the ruled and the rulers should succeed.

Social explosive

The ongoing protests in North Africa, especially in Morocco, reveal the extent of government failure. The alienation between (corrupt) elites and the social realities of the normal population has never been so great. Never before have the differences between rich and poor, between urban and rural areas been so great.

More than a fifth of the Moroccan population lives below the poverty line; rural areas such as the Rif region have suffered from government neglect, a lack of investment and high unemployment for decades. The arbitrariness of the authorities and widespread corruption make matters worse.

No question about it: we are witnessing a major socio-economic crisis in North Africa and the Middle East. Every third Arab today is under 23, the Arab world needs at least 50 million jobs over the next 20 years, and nobody knows where they will come from. Over time, the authoritarian regimes have not only terminated the social contract. The ruling (military) elites use state resources for their own benefit - and thus exacerbate the crisis of fragile statehood in the region.

What should Europe do?

The European Union has no choice but to work towards strengthening the remaining statehood. For this reason, every form of cooperation with the states in North Africa and the Middle East should aim to make state institutions, administration and infrastructure more efficient, more citizen-friendly and less corrupt. In doing so, it is essential to ensure compliance with standards of good governance.

Unconditional cooperation with supposedly "stable" dictatorships, on the other hand, should turn out to be a highly dangerous adventure.

Loay Mudhoon

© Qantara.de 2017